Earlier this week, we caught up with Alexander Schultz of Polyenso as his band was preparing to play their set in Rochester, NY. Polyenso has had quite a trip to get to where they are, starting out as metal/post-hardcore band Oceana. Over the past few years, their sound has undergone a major evolution, now drawing comparison to Radiohead instead of pick-your-melodic-hardcore band. The band released their debut album just two months ago, topping the download charts at Bandcamp and drawing great reviews across the internet. They're out on tour now and will be making a stop at Southgate House Revival today, so we were excited to learn more about Polyenso, where they'd come from, and where they're headed.
CM: First of all, I'm really glad you're coming to Cincinnati.
Alexander: Yeah! It was a super-last minute decision, but it's turning out great.
CM: Awesome. I've heard through the grapevine that there's a lot of buzz about the show on Wednesday, so hopefully you'll see a great turnout. And Cincinnati crowds tend to be enthusiastic, so it should be fun.
Alexander: Cool, that's amazing. We've been awed on this tour so far - our album's only been out for a couple months and we did it ourselves, so we didn't have much budget to advertise. It's been pretty cool how everything's going.
CM: Did you record, mix and master the album all yourself?
Alexander: Oh, no no. We actually did a Kickstarter campaign to fund it and went up to Glow In The Dark Studios in Atlanta to record with Matt Goldman, who's done As Cities Burn, Underoath - a little bit heavier bands. We worked with him before when we were still Oceana, and we went back because we trusted him and it turned out really well.
CM: Yeah, I'd say so. Based on listening to it multiple times.
Alexander: *laughs* Thank you!
CM: I've been following along on AbsolutePunk and AltPress and a bunch of other sites, and it seems like you're getting generally great reviews across the board. How does it feel to get that kind of accolade after changing your sound so drastically and starting out as a new project?
Alexander: It feels amazing. The last album we put out as Oceana, the Cleanhead EP, was even kind of a gamble because it was unlike the sound we'd had to that point. We were just tired of playing the metal/hardcore style of music, so we changed it up and said, "Who's going to love it is going to love it and who's going to hate it is just going to hate it." So we went with it. And then we did it again on One Big Particular Loop as Polyenso, and I think we finally found our sound. And that's a pretty exciting thing. So it feels amazing to be getting a good response. To be just a couple months after this independent record was released with no promotion and to play shows and see hundreds of people singing along is pretty crazy.
CM: I bet it is! You guys hit the number one most-downloaded album on Bandcamp, didn't you?
Alexander: Yeah, we were up there for a couple days. Then on iTunes we were at number 34 on the alternative charts - up there with The Lumineers and other well-known artists. It was great to see that with all the work we put into it. We have a solid, core team that helps us out - we don't do everything ourselves, just the music writing and playing. We have a creative designer and a sound/pre-production engineer and a social media person. So with those people putting all the work that they did, having our album up there with all these bands that have a big label backing them was a super-rewarding thing to see.
CM: So, how did you land on this sound? You say that you finally landed on your sound - how did you go from metal and post-hardcore to the Polyenso sound that you have right now.
Alexander: To make a long story short, Oceana went through a couple member changes. We lost the members who predominantly listened to the kind of metal music we were playing. I'm the only original member from our first album, which I'm not proud of because I don't really like that album. *laughs* But that was the start of our metal phase and it was a hot thing to do. It was cool, we did it, it was fun, and then we started to realize that it was kind of a phase. And we were listening to stuff like Flaming Lips and Wilco, and all these older, more mature bands that we take so much influence from, but we didn't write like that. So after the lineup change, we decided we were just going to go for it, and that's when we released the Cleanhead EP. From there on, we had about a three-year period where we weren't with our label anymore and we just started writing and writing and writing. We wrote, gosh, we had to have written at least 30 songs. And they just evolved. We grew up and our music grew up. We're all still pretty young - I'm 23 and everyone else is 22. So we just kind of grew up with the music. The past three years has kind of been spent listening to blues, jazz, electronic - all these different things that you hear on One Big Particular Loop - and it just kind of came through. I forget who said it, but somebody said that the failure to sound like your idols creates your sound. So all of those things that we were listening to just kind of came through - some harder than others, but I think we've pretty much found our sound. Of course, this next release is going to change things a little bit, I think, in the manner of writing and structuring our songs, because OBPL is kind of a more jam-y record. The instrumentation and musicality is a little bit more free. And I think this next one, we're going to tighten that up a little bit, still keep the experimentation and the diversity of the songs, but maybe tighten up and make it a little bit shorter, a little bit more easy to latch on to. I think that might be the only thing that changes in the next thing you hear from us.
CM: Is that next release planned for sometime this year or is it a later on kind of thing?
Alexander: We started new material before One Big Particular Loop was even released. So as soon as we have the money to record, that's the first thing we're gonna do. So yeah, hopefully this year. I mean, we'll definitely release something this year, whether it be an EP or a full-length, I don't know. But we're definitely going to do something. Maybe a 7-inch, since vinyl's such a collectible thing. I don't think we're going to do any CDs, but we're definitely doing vinyl. We're going to do that for OBPL too - that's coming soon.
CM: So you were talking about the failure to sound like your idols creates your own sound. I've seen a lot of people around the internet say that OBPL reminds them of Radiohead. Is that something you were anticipating? Is it something you welcome or is it a surprise to you?
Alexander: Yeah, we get that a lot. It's not really a surprise. Brennan's singing style has always been a little bit like Thom Yorke's in that his melodies are kind of drawn out and melancholy. But with Cleanhead and the aggressive rock that we were doing back then, nobody could say that it sounded like Radiohead. Now that we're sprinkling in these experimental and electronic kind of sounds, more people latch on to that, which is fine with us! We like Radiohead. They're not one of our favorite bands, but it is flattering to hear that we sound like one of the most popular experimental rock bands of all time. I'll take Radiohead or Coldplay or Wilco or any of those bands any day!
CM: So it wasn't something you aimed for - what were you aiming for with this record?
Alexander: Honestly, the name of the band comes from Zen books or Zen material - it has that "enso" on the front. It's the circle with the rigid brush stroke. It's an ancient Japanese symbol that represents all types of different things, but one of the biggest things to us is beauty in imperfection and letting the mind be free to just let the body, spirit and soul create. One of the big things for us as Polyenso was just kind of letting go of what we had with Oceana. Even though we were writing the music for awhile as Oceana, we already anticipated changing our name and we already thought of ourselves as a new band. We just let go of all of that stuff and just created. And like I said, we were all listening to a lot of different stuff, and it all came through. And the record...we just did it. There were some crazier songs that didn't make the record that might have gone over ok. But we did the record without over-thinking it. It just happened. And I think that's the most important thing - to not get caught up. That's what we were aiming for - something we could really latch on to and something that a lot of other people could latch on to because it sounds free and pure. Which is kind of a cool thing, I think.
CM: It seems to have worked out pretty well for you guys so far!
Alexander: Yeah! It's working out pretty well. It might not come across that way - and I'm glad I get to talk to you about it, because I haven't been able to yet with anyone - because there's a lot of layers and intricacies in the album. Not in playing, we're not shredding the whole time, which is also something we were aiming for - to let the songs breathe. We didn't want to listen to how fast or hard we could play or end up saying, "listen to the drums on this part" or "listen to this on that part". Everybody was in it for the good of the song and not themselves, which is something that we'd never done as a band. We've always kind of been selfish in writing, and we'd write what we thought was the coolest part - whether it be drums or piano or guitar, we'd always just write the coolest part. This time, we wrote what was best for the song and set that ego aside. I think that was a big thing, too, for us. So, a lot of people might not hear the purity that I'm talking about or it not being over-thought, but as intricate as some of those parts are, everybody just let it breathe and let go, which is something that I think is really important in music.
CM: What would you tell people that are new to Polyenso that are thinking about coming to see you on Wednesday? What can they expect?
Alexander: They can expect to hear something that they're familiar with, but also something completely brand new. I think we offer a live show that will absolutely, I mean I hope it's keeping people interested. We worked very hard to have a live show that really was entertaining from start to finish. The music itself - if you haven't heard the album, go listen to it! If you don't have time to listen to it, come to the show and hear it there for the first time because I don't think - I'm not trying to toot my own horn of course - but I don't think they'll be disappointed. We've worked hard on it and we've been working hard for the past three years. Keep supporting underground music. Keep supporting these local artists that are opening up for us. Viva la underground!
CM: Ok, one final question. Back in February, you guys played a show at World of Beer in St. Petersburg and I saw that you recommended, "a nice IPA or a smoked porter to pair with your One Big Particular Loop." Are you still sticking to that suggestion or is there something else you've been digging?
Alexander: *laughs* I would say try Cigar City if you haven't. It's our home brewery and they make some of the best beers I've ever had. They have plenty that would go great with your OBPL.
CM: I will make sure to note that! We look forward to seeing you play on Wednesday. Cheers!
Polyenso, w/ Us, Today and The Monument
The Southgate House Revival
7p Doors, 8p Show
$8 ADV / $10
*an additional $3 will be charged at the door for patrons ages 18–20*